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Overtourism Problem in Hawaii

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Hawaii's Overtourism Crisis
  2. Historical Context of Foreign Influence in Hawaii
  3. Defining Overtourism and Its Impact on Hawaii
  4. Economic and Social Consequences of Mass Tourism
  5. Environmental and Cultural Degradation Due to Overtourism
  6. Proposed Solutions to Mitigate Overtourism

Introduction to Hawaii's Overtourism Crisis

Hawaii is universally known for being ‘paradise on earth’, however this facade has a devastating effect on its locals. Millions of people a year travel to see this ‘paradise’ without ever seeing the ugly truth. Due to the growing number of tourists, the cost of living is rising, traffic congestion is getting worse, our land is being mistreated and Hawaiian culture is dying.

Historical Context of Foreign Influence in Hawaii

Since before the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiians have been persecuted against by foreigners. Hawaiians were left with no power to voice their opinions and this is still occurring today. The Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown on Jan. 17, 1893, after a group of 13 Caucasian businessmen and lawyers staged a coup d'état against Queen Liliuokalani and her government. This set a foundation for Hawaii to be annexed into the United States. Direct descendants of the missionaries that destroyed Native Hawaiians culture and displaced them from their land years ago, were now in positions of authority to carry out their annexation plan. The U.S. Minister, John L. Stevens was a conspirator in this plan and ordered a nearby naval ship to land U.S. troops in Honolulu. Queen Lili’uokalani watched from her palace as troops stood outside with a Gatling gun. In order to prevent casualties, the Queen decided to stand down and wait for the U.S. to restore order. After President Grover Cleveland was notified of these events, he urged there to be restoration of the monarchy. However, it was declared that Hawaii be established as a Republic. Unfortunately, once the Spanish-American war broke out in 1898, Hawaii became a strategic landmark for troops fighting in the Philippines. Although Hawaiian protestors were against it, President William McKinley pushed for annexation of Hawaii with success. Wealthy businessmen took over Hawaii through a gradual process, but as history will tell, Hawaiians never win. Foreigners and wealthy businessmen did not only view Hawaii as a strategic landmark, but rather a beautiful destination that would make them a lot of money. Today, those wealthy businessmen have over-advertised to the point that Hawaii has a problem with overtourism.

Defining Overtourism and Its Impact on Hawaii

Overtourism is the perceived congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists, resulting in conflicts with locals. Due to this overcrowding, more land is being occupied by tourists, resulting in traffic congestion and less areas to be enjoyed by locals. About 1 in every 8 people statewide are now visitors. On Oahu more than 1 in 10 people are tourists and on Hawaii island it's about 1 in 7. On Kauai and Maui, more than 1 in four people are visitors. According to the 2019 Urban Mobility Report, on average, Oahu residents spend about 64 hours a year driving in traffic. Honolulu ranked sixth in highest traffic congestion amongst places like Los Angeles or San Francisco. Traffic congestion has cost locals more and more money each year.

Economic and Social Consequences of Mass Tourism

Mass tourism has had a direct impact on the quality of life for locals. Some suggest raising costs directly on tourists, however this does not benefit Hawaiians. Instead, foreigners and major tourist corporations such as hotels and resorts would benefit the most. A tourism economy encourages foreign investment, which drives up inflation, and thus the cost of living. Patterson explains that “foreign investment related to tourism went from 70.8 million dollars in 1981 to over a billion and a half in 1986”. In addition, today, almost every major hotel corporation in funded/owned through foreign investments. Tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry yet Hawaiians are struggling to live a decent life. This is history repeating itself. Many may see tourism as more employment opportunities for Native Hawaiians. However, according to Haunani-Kay, a writer for Cultural Survival, has described tourism as a repeated cycle of Hawaiians losing out and foreign business people to win. For many locals, you have a choice of working construction to build these beautiful resorts, the military or working at major hotel corporations. However, as the author states, Hawaiians working in hotels are not paid adequately. Our people who work in the industry -- dancers, waiters, singers, valets, gardeners, housekeepers, bartenders, and even a few managers -- are very poorly paid, considering the high cost of living in Hawaii. Indeed, tourism is considered a low-paying service industry that, no matter the huge numbers of tourists, always generates low-income jobs. In most cases, Hawaiians are forced to leave with their families because they do not meet the economic necessity of living in their homeland. All money made is given to these major corporations and foreign investors instead of circling to the locals. An article written by Luther College Chips, a University in Iowa, where students visited Hawaii to study multiculturalism. In conclusion, they saw the devastating effects tourism has had on the Hawaiian Islands. Tourism has led to an increase in property value. The article states that the average single-family home price on Oahu has now reached $795,000. For many locals, this is too much to afford. This has caused many Hawaiian families to be displaced and homeless. In the end, the entire employment scene is shaped by and depends upon tourists, wealthy business owners, and the selling of Hawaii through the tourism industry.

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Environmental and Cultural Degradation Due to Overtourism

Overtourism also results in negative environmental and social impacts. In terms of environmental impacts, over tourism contributes to an increase in water consumption, air pollution, litter and waste in tourism destinations. Hawaii is a secluded chain of islands housing many wild plants and animals. Being so secluded, the islands have a delicate ecology in which most wildlife have no resistance to outside elements. According to Scholar Works of Western Michigan University, “Hawaii has only 0.2% of the nation's land, but 72.1% of its extinctions and 27% of its rare or endangered species”. Mass tourism has caused an increase of pollution and litter. These changes to the environment can have detrimental effects to the many inhabitants in Hawaii. In addition, major resort constructions have disrupted our wildlife’s living conditions. For example, the massive Waikoloa Beach resort on the Big Island destroyed 70% of the anchialine ponds during construction. These ponds were home to unique shrimp that do not exist anywhere else in the world. In addition, rare migrating birds that would use the ponds as resting stations are now nowhere to be found. Those in power of the tourism industry do not take these effects into consideration.

Tourism also contributes to the oppression and destruction of Native Hawaiians. Most tourists have an image of Hawaii and expect it to be that way. Tourists participate in makeshift luaus with roasted pig and hula dancers. In the hotel version of the hula, the sacredness of the dance has completely been stripped away while the athleticism and sexualization are amplified. The purpose is entertainment for profit rather than a true Hawaiian celebration of humanity, our land and divine nature. In addition, the word ‘aloha’ that used to hold so much power and meaning is now used as greeting points at any tourist destination. Aloha has now become meaningless to our culture but meaningful for hotels in order to earn ‘authenticity’. Beautiful patches of land, once sacred to our people and our culture, are now the sites of expensive resorts. Shores where fishing and seaweed gathering are now overcrowded with tourists sunbathing and surfing. Even access to beaches near hotels is strictly regulated or denied to the local public altogether.

The tourism industry has shaped Hawaiian culture into its own meaning, and withholding any respect to Native Hawaiians. Our land, people, and culture are being exploited and mistreated by those that once did everything in their power to destroy it all. The irony in over tourism is that it is not the tourists that are doing the most damage. Tourists have been sold an image through extensive marketing strategies by the tourism industry. Those in power of the industry, meaning the government and major hotel operations, are the problem. They have not set boundaries on tourism nor have they given back to the locals of Hawaii. Uncontrolled tourism development has caused significant damage to landscapes, seascapes, air and water quality, as well as the living conditions of residents. This has caused economic inequalities and social exclusion, amongst many other issues. So, while educating tourists on being respectful to our land and people may help peel a layer on our issues, it is not a major solution.

Proposed Solutions to Mitigate Overtourism

Other major tourist destinations, such as Barcelona and Iceland, have manufactured some solutions to their over tourism problem. According to Shift’s writer, Andrew Sheivacman, he has compiled some solutions these other countries have discovered for their over tourism issue. Hawaii could consider a tax on tour operators to make it more expensive for tourists to visit. Also, just as Barcelona has done, there should be taxes on hotels, apartment shares, and cruise ships. There should be more legislative effort to make visiting more expensive which can replace mass tourism with higher-spending and more respectful visitation.

So, as it happened in the 1800’s, Hawaiian’s have been left with no voice, forced to succumb to the demands of selfish business owners. The destruction of our land and the exploitation of our culture has been carefully planned and executed by major corporations, foreign business owners, major landholders and by a collaboration of state and country governments. The ideological gloss that claims tourism to be our economic savior has been manufactured by ad agencies, tour companies, and the state of Hawaii that have contributed to $60 million dollars a year to the tourism advertising budget. Hawaiians have been taught to accept this mistreatment throughout years of mental oppression. As colonized people, we are colonized to the extent that we are unaware of our oppression. Hawaiians need to be given back their voice and to finally be listened to.

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Overtourism Problem in Hawaii. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Overtourism Problem in Hawaii.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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Overtourism Problem in Hawaii [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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